Douglas Campbell and the right(eous)ness of God

Read time: 10 minutes

Douglas Campbell’s The Deliverance of God is a highly polemical argument about the nature of salvation and the character of God. It is polemical inasmuch as it is driven from the outset by a rigorous opposition to what Campbell calls “Justification theory”—the argument that salvation consists essentially in the satisfaction of divine wrath through the atoning death of Jesus, which is appropriated not by any type of work but by faith alone. Campbell maintains that Paul sets out his own understanding of salvation not in Romans 1-4 but in Romans 5-8. Salvation is the unconditional deliverance of humanity from enslavement to sin in order to participate in a new ontology—a new liberated existence—in Christ. Campbell achieves this fundamental theological realignment by ascribing all the retributive material in Romans 1-4 to a particular Jewish-Christian Teacher with whom Paul enters into fictitious dialogue.

The martyrological narrative

Chapter 17 of part 4 is probably the heart of the book: “The Deliverance of God, and Its Rhetorical Implications”. You arrive it at much as you might finally arrive at the Mona Lisa, somewhat footsore, after traipsing through the many rooms and galleries of obscure works in the Louvre. I am, no doubt, rather disoriented and overwhelmed by the experience (much of it undergone over the last few days at the poolside while on a brief holiday in Oman), but I will attempt a superficial and impressionistic critique.

What I find especially interesting in Campbell’s analysis is his characterization of Paul’s account of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection as a “martyrological narrative” (647-656), based largely on his interpretation of the phrase dia pisteōs Iēsou Christou in Romans 3:22 (610-613) and an examination of the background relevance of the stories of the Maccabean martyrs and the binding of Isaac in Genesis 22 (648-656). I regard this as a significant step away from a theological reading of Romans towards a consistently narrative reading.

It is supported by two further arguments that Campbell puts forward in this chapter. The first is that the meaning of the phrase “righteousness of God” is determined by—and can be elucidated by—the story of Jesus’ suffering and resurrection (683-84). Secondly, he argues that Old Testament narratives of divine kingship are in the background (duly acknowledging his debt to Hays), so that the statement in Romans 1:17 about the revelation of the righteousness of God must be understood in light of a text such as Psalm 98:2-3:

The Lord has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

The intertextual echo, Campbell suggests, “generates a broad and rich resonance through Romans in terms of the ancient discourse of kingship” (688), and gives rise to what is an “essentially narrative account” of the righteousness of God (696).

My objection is that it is not nearly narrative enough. It has puzzled me all along that Campbell’s analysis sets out from the theoretically constructed premise that what we have in Romans essentially is a generalized argument about salvation that is to be explained either in accordance with Justification theory or as a matter of participation and transformation. The result, it seems to me, is that whenever narrative and contingent elements come to light, they are too quickly subordinated to the prior theoretical commitment. I have made this point with respect to the language of wrath, but it can also be illustrated from a section in this chapter in which Campbell discusses the relationship between the narrative of divine kingship and the covenant.

Righteousness of God and covenant faithfulness

Campbell, of course, is here addressing the argument associated with Wright, Hays and Dunn that “the righteousness of God” means, in effect, “the covenant faithfulness of God”. He accepts that a “righteous act by the divine King” may constitute an act of “covenant faithfulness”, but he thinks that it may also be construed in other ways—as a “dramatically liberating act on behalf of Israel”, or as a saving act “in defiance of Israel’s repeated violations of the covenant”, or as an “oppressive act against enemies… that has nothing to do with a covenant with them”, or as a “retributive act that has nothing to do with a covenant” (700). In fact, “The covenant was not a central, standard, or invariable element in the discourse of divine kingship and hence in the phrase dikaiosynē theou” (701). So although there is allusion to Psalm 98 and the theme of divine kingship in Romans 1:17, the phrase dikaiosynē theou is oriented not towards covenant but “in a fundamentally christocentric direction”:

It speaks not of the covenant with Israel—although it has implications for that!—so much as of the inauguration of the age to come by way of Christ’s enthroning resurrection. It therefore speaks of a liberating act that has implications for all of humanity (Israel of course included).

This allows Campbell to argue that Paul is putting forward a gospel for humanity which incidentally and secondarily has relevance for Israel. I think Paul’s argument—at this point, at least—is the other way round: what is in the first place an announcement regarding the transformation of Israel is found to have repercussions, according to a particular narrative development, for the whole of the pagan world.

1. Whether or not the righteousness of God has direct or explicit reference to the covenant, the Old Testament always presupposes the relationship with Israel. If the defeat of enemies can be counted as a “righteous act”, it is because they are Israel’s enemies, or because YHWH’s reputation in the eyes of the nations is always determined, for better or for worse, by the condition and standing of his people.

2. In Psalm 98 God is shown to be righteous “before the nations” because he has saved Israel, because he remained faithful to his people: “He remembered his mercy to Jacob and his truth to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth saw the deliverance of our God” (Ps. 98:3). Campbell has this back to front when he says that “the saving deliverance that is being effected by God in plain view of the pagan nations” is found also to be an “act of fidelity to the house of Israel” (701). What the Psalm affirms is that the divine act of fidelity towards Israel will be seen by the nations, which will as a consequence acknowledge the rightness of Israel’s God.

Moreover, the salvation of Israel provides the basis for the view that YHWH “will judge the oikoumenēn with righteousness and peoples with justice” (98:9 LXX). This is exactly Paul’s argument (cf. Romans 15:8-12): Israel’s divine king has saved his people; this “righteous act” of deliverance has been witnessed by the nations (through the preaching of the gospel); and the outcome will eventually be the righteous judgment of the oikoumenē, not in final but in contingent historical terms.

3. Contrary to Campbell’s claim that there is nothing in Romans 1:16-17 that “activates such specific resonances explicitly”, the covenantal framework appears to be introduced by the quotation of Habakkuk 2:4. Habakkuk is not a narrative about humanity: it addresses the question of how YHWH will deal with injustice in Israel and with the implications of what is revealed for the righteous. It is because of the covenant relationship—in fact, because of the failure of the Law to guarantee justice (Hab. 1:4)—that God is expected to act to justify himself. The nations are implicated in the narrative, but they are instrumental to YHWH’s purposes regarding Israel.

Safeguarding the narrative

I make these points not in order to defend the “covenant faithfulness” definition of the “righteousness of God”, which I think may obscure some of the broader political implications of the phrase, but to highlight the tendency to suppress the Jewish narrative in the interests of theological coherence at an anthropological level. Campbell assumes that what Paul expounds in chapters 5-8, having extricated himself with such rhetorical ingenuity from his dialogue with the Teacher, is a general doctrine of the salvation of humanity. The meticulous dissection of Romans 1-4 and the apportioning of the argument about wrath to the Teacher is a critical step in this proposal.

It is the discourse of wrath, however, and the events that it foresees which ground Paul’s argument in the particularities of history rather than in the generalities of anthropology. If we recover the historical orientation that is given not least in the allusion to Habakkuk, the argument about divine kingship may also be rescaled. Divine kingship is conceived in the Old Testament not in abstract or entirely apolitical cosmic terms but in relation to the nations. The coming of the kingdom of God in the New Testament has in view a transformation of the status of the people of God vis-à-vis the nations; and in the apocalyptic scenario envisaged it entails the faithful suffering of the transitional community in Christ. Like the majority of commentators—and despite his appreciation of the martyrological dimension to the Jesus story—Campbell misses the significance of the theme of Christ-like suffering in the hope of Christ-like vindication in Romans. This is the concrete form of faithfulness under conditions of wrath that is encapsulated in Habakkuk’s apophthegm—and it will provide the theological and sociological basis for the eventual demonstration of the right(eous)ness of God.

The right(eous)ness and wrath of God

Paul is convinced by the resurrection of Jesus that Israel’s God will establish his right(eous)ness with respect to the pagan nations that make up the Greek-Roman oikoumenē whose influence stretched from Jerusalem through Illyricum to Spain, which is the scope of his intended apostolic mission. Israel’s God will, in the foreseeable future, show himself to be God of the nations, of the whole world, not of Jews only but also of Gentiles. This will amount to a judgment—admittedly a belated judgment—of the nations of the oikoumenē for their longstanding idolatry and for the habits of immorality and injustice that have resulted from it. History, in Paul’s view, is moving towards a dramatic climax.

However, Israel’s God cannot hold the oikoumenē accountable without first holding Israel accountable. The Law should have set Israel apart as a benchmark of righteousness amidst the pagan nations, but because of its captivity to sin Israel failed in its calling. It came down to a simple empirical observation: adherence to the Law made no great difference; Israel was no better than the pagan nations whose political-religious hegemony, Paul believed, was coming to an end.

It is this argument about the eventual demonstration of the right(eous)ness of Israel’s God before the nations which brings into play—necessarily, I think—the language of wrath. There are two points to be made. First, “wrath” in scripture is not an absolute and final but a contingent and historical category. It becomes relevant for Paul’s argument about the future of the family of Abraham because certain devastating and momentous events are coming into view which must be explained theologically—first, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple; secondly, the end of the age of classical paganism.

Secondly, this is not a crude “turn or burn” argument, as Campbell characterizes it (705, 707). It is grounded in the perception that the name of Israel’s God is held in disregard amongst the pagan nations because of Israel’s behaviour (cf. Rom. 1:5; 2:24), and that he is bound, sooner or later to act to rectify this situation. But it is also grounded in realistic historical prognosis: given the terms of the covenant, the precedence of prophetic testimonies, and the seeming pervasiveness of the expectation in the teaching of Jesus and the Jerusalem community, it is difficult to think that Paul would not have interpreted the political catastrophe of the Jewish War as a sign of divine judgment against a persistently rebellious people.

My view is that we resolve the difficulties generated by Justification theory—to the extent that this constitutes a plausible construction—not by offloading the argument about wrath on to a theological adversary but by bringing into view the historical situation that would quite naturally have been at the forefront of Paul’s mind. From this angle the language of wrath appears as a reasonable and inevitable account of the events by means of which the God of Israel would show himself to be right(eous) in the eyes of the nations. The narrative of participation and transformation in Romans 5-8 arises because the salvation of Israel from oblivion through the faithfulness of Jesus also entails the suffering and vindication of a community that will constitute a new benchmark of righteousness with reference to which the oikoumenē would be judged.

peter wilkinson | Wed, 11/24/2010 - 10:33 | Permalink

It's taking you a long time to read this book - or is it one of several by Douglas Campbell?

I think the association of the death of Jesus with a Maccabean martyrdom theology is highly misleading - for Campbell as well as Wright. The stronger resonances in Romans 3:21-26 are with the Passover, not the Maccabees. We have redemption (v.24), hilasterion (v.25), and blood (v25b). Hilasterion combines the temple sacrifice of the day of atonement with the passover celebration as officiated by the eschatological prince in Ezekiel 45:21-24, and is echoed elsewhere in the NT,

This points us back to the death of Jesus as a sacrifice of atonement/Passover lamb, demonstrated in the last supper, which provides the key to understanding his death on the cross. The meaning is provided within the symbols of Israel's history and sacrificial system - not in the Maccabeean martyrs.

I also note that in Romans 15:8, which Andrew cites above as evidence of a restricted and historical significance of he death of Jesus, Paul says that his death was "to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy". The promises to the patriarchs were that the 'seed' would bring blessing to all nations, and that Abraham's descendants would far exceed people who would populate Canaan. This suggests strongly to me that the death of Jesus had the Gentiles directly in view, and not that the Gentiles saw what God had done for Israel, and believed in God as a secondary consequence.

Campbell's association of Romans 1:17 with Psalm 98:3 as sketched by Andrew is interesting, and I should have a closer look at it, but at the moment proves nothing new to me. Perhaps I'm missing the point, but Jesus was already associated with the royal line of David in Romans 1:3. He is king as a result of YHWH's faithfulness to the covenant, not as an agent independent of the covenant. The fulfilment of the covenant in Jesus facilitated the purpose which always underlay it: the worldwide promises of God's blessing to the Gentiles made by YHWH to the patriarchs. That blessing related to the history preceding the patriarchs, which included a creation covenant made with Noah (far more important than is generally acknowledged), and originated in the distortion of God's plans triggered by the disobediencs of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3.

There is plenty of theology in the death of Jesus, as described in the gospels and Romans. In that sense, we have a strongly developed theological narrative in the life of Jesus, contra Andrew's attempts to strip out theology from the narrative. Contra my understanding of Campbell, the theology of the narrative isn't entirely what he ascribes to it.

@peter wilkinson:

Peter, a few points in response:

1. The language of redemption (apolytrōsis) and expiation/propitiation (hilastērion) is not found in the Passover texts (or, as far as I can see in Ezek. 45:21-25) but is found in the accounts of the Maccabean martyrs, which makes your argument seem rather weak—though I admit this is based on a very hasty perusal. The Day of Atonement is certainly in the background, but this is symbolically and theologically different to the Passover. The narrative background to Paul’s terminology is suggested by Hebrews 9:15: “a death has occurred that redeems (eis apolytrōsin) them (ie. Israel) from the transgressions committed under the first covenant”.

By the way, we’ve had this discussion before and at inordinate length on Open Source Theology: Contours of Pauline Theology - Tom Holland and What evangelicals fight about: atonement.

2. The Maccabean martyr stories are relevant not because Paul alludes to them—he probably doesn’t—but because they illustrate the type of event that is being described or redescribed metaphorically through the imagery of the Day of Atonement. The martyrs understood their deaths as having atoning value for Israel’s sins. Paul thinks of Jesus’ death as a martyrdom that could be said to have decisive atoning significance for Israel, confirmed by his visible resurrection from the dead.

3. I don’t see how the promise to the patriarchs leads us to interpret Jesus’ death as a death for the Gentiles. There is nothing in the Genesis texts to suggest that a crucified messiah is required for the promise of the blessing of the nations to be fulfilled. As Paul clearly says, Christ became a servant (there are martyr overtones here: cf. Phil. 2:6-11) to Israel in order that—subsequently, secondarily, consequently—the promises given to the patriarchs might be confirmed by means of the Gentiles glorifying God for his mercy towards his people (Rom. 15:8-9).

4. The divine kingship theme is important to Campbell because it helps to support his interpretation of dikaiosynē theou (against Justification theory) as “divine deliverance”. I agree with him in this, but I don’t think he fully appreciates the political implications of Paul’s use of the Royal Psalms.

5. I am not trying to “strip out theology from the narrative”—you have misunderstood me. I am trying to strip out extraneous theologies from the narrative in order to hear more clearly how Paul engages theologically with his historical context. A very important point to grasp. Scripture is the theological interpretation of history.

6. Campbell’s book is very long. It’s likely that I will be reading it from now until kingdom come. Oh, I forgot, the kingdom has come.

@Andrew Perriman:

Andrew - I just stupidly deleted a much longer response to this, so here's an abbreviated version.

1. I counted very many uses of the word 'redeemed/redemption' in relation to God's rescue of Israel from Egypt - which includes the Passover story. Redemption is at the heart of the story. It also occurs in the redemption of the firstborn of Israel, for whom the Levites were substituted in their service of the priesthood, and on whose behalf a lamb was sacrificed, or redemption money, five temple shekels, was paid. References to 'apolytrosis' would almost certainly convey this background to Jews - in Hebrews 9:15 as well.

'Hilasterion' is the very word used in the LXX Ezekiel 45:21-25, and the passage brings together the Passover celebrations with offerings taken from the sin offering, the guilt offering, and the Day of Atonement (the sacrificed goat). It is therefore highly suggestive of the eschatological Passover which took place in the person of Jesus himself, the sacrificial Passover offering, described dramatically in the Passover meal before his death. This squares the circle of 'hilasterion' as a temple offering (not publicly on display), and a public display suggested in the use of the word 'proetheto', presented (Romans 3:25a), and 'hilasterion' as the Passover sacrifice publicly daubed on the doorposts and lintels, which otherwise sent Wright scurrying to Maccabees for an alternative martyrdom explanation.

2. Continuing from the previous point, Paul speaks expressly of a righteousness "to which the Law and the Prophets testify" - Romans 3:21, in other words not the Maccabean literature, which is adequately explained through an Exodus provenance of language in Romans 3:24-26. Maccabean martyrdom as an interpretive explanation is ruled out.

3. I don't see how you can read Romans 15:8 and not see that if it says Jesus was a servant of the Jews "to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy" it means that God's promise to Abraham to bless the Gentiles/nations ("all nations") through the promised seed (Jesus) was a direct intention, not an indirect consequence of something that God did primarily for Israel, and not for the Gentiles/nations ("all nations").

4. Thank you for the explanation.

5. Very odd. We're both trying to do exactly the same thing, yet keep coming to radically different conclusions!

6. I saw on Amazon that Campbell's book was over 1400 pages long, and not available for less than £49.00. I won't be reading it for a while then (unless you lend me yours).

@peter wilkinson:

1. You’re right. The verb lutroō (“to redeem”) is used frequently with reference to the Passover, but not the noun apolutrōsis. The problem is whether you have enough grounds to connect Paul’s noun with the Exodus/Passover narratives. I don’t know what version of the LXX you’re reading, but I cannot find hilastērion in Ezekiel 45:21-25. The related verb exilaskomai occurs in 45:17, 18 and 20, but this is not in connection with the Passover celebration: Ezekiel 45:13-20 describes an atonement for the house of Israel and for the temple.

The Passover was not an atoning event: it was a deliverance from slavery to a foreign oppressor in order that the promise to Abraham about taking possession of the land might be fulfilled, not an atonement for Israel’s sin. These are distinct conceptions. The idea of an expiation or propitiation “by his blood” also clearly points to the Day of Atonement. Given the absence of any other links between Romans 3:21-26 and the Exodus/Passover narrative, it really seems that Hebrews 9:15, which has Paul’s word apolutrōsis, constitutes a much more pertinent gloss. I have no narrative-historical axe to grind here: if it could be shown that Paul is thinking of the Passover here (as he does elsewhere), it would have no significant impact on the basic hermeneutical contention.

2. There is no “Exodus provenance of language” in Romans 3:24-26. The Exodus was one type of redemptive event, but not one that was associated with a death for the sins of the people. Therefore, the Day of Atonement background is more to the point. Then, as I said, the argument is not that Paul is somehow making reference to the Maccabean martyrs, though undoubtedly he knew of the stories and the texts. It is that what we have in Romans 3:21-26 is analogous to the accounts of the deaths of the martyrs in the Maccabean literature, the significance of this being that it locates the death of Jesus firmly within a narrative about the redemption of Israel from its sins—rather than in a universal or anthropological narrative about the salvation of humanity.

The Maccabean literature simply illustrates how appropriate it was for the death of a righteous person to be interpreted, using atonement language which would not normally have been applied to people, as a death for the sake of Israel and because of the sins of Israel. A similar effect could have been achieved using Exodus language, but that would not have got across the point about this being a death for the sins of the people.

In the end, rather disappointingly, Campbell actually opts for an anthropological reading of Jesus’ death—a death for the sins of humanity. I think he uses the narrative argument only to create some space between himself and Justification theory.

3. The pattern seems to me to be pretty clear in Romans 15:8-12 and in Isaiah that in the first place the nations give glory to God because he has acted to save his people—in this case through the atoning death of Jesus. Paul, of course, takes the argument at least one step further in 15:12 when he quotes Isaiah 11:10 LXX: ‘And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.”’ But notice that this is about ruling the nations, tying in with the divine kingship theme. The effect of Jesus’ becoming a servant to Israel through his faithful obedience to the point of death on a cross, as an act of atonement, was not only that the people of God were saved from destruction and transformed into a community of the Spirit for the age to come; they also became the instrument through which Israel’s God came to rule over the nations, which I think foresees the conversion of the empire.

…it means that God’s promise to Abraham to bless the Gentiles/nations (“all nations”) through the promised seed (Jesus) was a direct intention…

The promise to the patriarchs was that the nations would be blessed through his descendants. So, for example, God says to Isaac:

I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Gen. 26:4-5)

“Seed” or “offspring” here, as generally in these texts, is a singular noun referring to Abraham’s plural descendants: “I will multiply your offspring…”. There are certain argumentative contexts where it makes sense to identify Jesus as this seed (cf. Gal. 3:15-29), but this does not exclude the primary corporate reference: notice that Paul concludes his argument here: “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise” (3:29). The point is the same as I made above: the impact on the nations, whether rule or blessing, comes about because of what has been done to Israel through Jesus.

Again, it is not an anthropological but a Jewish narrative that is work here: what God is doing in Israel, both to judge and to restore, will have repercussions for the nations which will be told of these events through the preaching of the apostles and the witness of the communities of Jesus’ disciples.

@Andrew Perriman:

There is far too much here to address simply in one response. But first of all, apolutrosis and lutroo, as I'm sure you can see, are words related through the same root. There is an echo of the one in the other. There are also two different Hebrew words used to for redemption, with no etymological relationship. But we're not simply looking at etymology; the concept is the same, which is summed up in the one English word which translates them: redemption.

I don't have time now to respond in detail to your questions on Ezekiel 45:21-25 - but it is that section I am looking at, not the purification of the temple in the preceding section. It is the connection between the Passover and sacrifices dealing with the sins of the people which stands out prominently.

It's easy to say that there was no atoning significance in the Passover event, but that is to ignore some troubling questions. Why were the firstborn of the Israelites in danger of death as well as those of Egypt? Why did they need the blood of a sacrificed lamb daubed around the doorposts to avert the angel of death's destruction? Was the angel of death unable to distinguish by any other means, even plain powers of observation, where the firstborn of Israel lived as opposed to where the firstborn of Egypt lived? What did the Passover sacrifice of a lamb signify? Why did God require the lives of the firstborn of Israel for himself, and only released them through a substitute of the Levites and payment of a redemption sacrifice or redemption money? Why is there no mention of this redemption procedure being observed for Jesus, the firstborn of Mary and Joseph, especially as later he did give up his life as the firstborn?

Please think about these questions before you rush to dogmatically sweep them aside.

The particular reason for not using the Maccabeean example as an explanation of Romans 3:25a is that it pushes an explanation of Jesus's death in a misleading direction, the one that Wright takes, as a sacrifice which somehow attracted the metaphysical forces of evil represented in the powers who had Jesus crucified, and exhausted their power. That may be part of the explanation, but it ignores an explanation which is nearer at hand in the choice of words used in Romans 3:24-26, where unlike you, I do see Exodus/Passover language, as already described. I also see Paul restricting our understanding of the death of Jesus to the Law and the Prophets. I think you are wrong, there is an Exodus provenance to the language, and you need to avoid being dogmatic here also.

Well, of course the blessing of Abraham came through his descendants, but what do you think Paul means in Galatians when he narrows down those descendants to one particular person - Jesus? Of course, this is opening up an entire hinterland of discussion, but once again, I have to disagree with Wright, who makes a case for 'seed' as meaning 'family' rather than one person. Obviously I dsiagree with your interpretation, which seems to me be standing the promise made to Abraham on its head by saying that the blessing was not really primarily for the gentiles, but for Israel, and only indirectly for the Gentiles. This also, incidentally ignores the entire context of the narrative which leads up to the call of Abraham and the giving of the promise.

 Sorry, that's all I have time for now. I will return to the other issues later.

@peter wilkinson:

OK, let’s suppose that you are right—”redemption” in Romans 3:24 is an allusion to the Exodus. The argument has often been made: Fitzmyer refers to Psalm 78:35 at this point (Romans, 348), and Wright actually says with regard to apolutrōsis:

…Israel could scarcely hear the word without thinking of Egypt, of Passover, of the Red Sea, the wilderness wanderings, and the promised land. Paul has already hinted that the whole human race languishes in the Egypt of sin (3:9—a point he will develop more explicitly in chapter 6); what such people need is a new exodus, the cosmic equivalent of what God did for Israel long ago. As we shall see, the exodus provides a key subtext, a hidden but very powerful metanarrative, for a good deal of the rest of the letter, particularly chapters 5-8. (Romans, 471)

Now, I have to say that I find Fitzmyer’s reference to Psalm 78:35 tenuous, and I don’t know how Wright finds an Exodus allusion in Romans 3:9, particularly since none of the texts that Paul cites as evidence for his claim that Jews and Greeks are under the power of sin (3:10-18) mentions the Exodus or Passover. Moreover, if Pharoah is metaphorically equated with “sin”, this seems an odd way to establish Israel’s guilt: Israel in Egypt was not culpable; they were innocent victims of foreign injustice. Whether or not Paul makes use of an underlying Exodus metanarrative in 5-8 is another matter.

But let’s suppose you are right and that in Romans 3:24 (though certainly not in 3:25) Paul has in mind the Exodus when he speaks of a “redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. The thing is, we still have an essentially Jewish narrative about how Israel makes the difficult transition from slavery to freedom used to account for the significance of Jesus’ death. My general argument is that what Paul is talking about in this passage is not the general salvation of humanity but the particular, narratively construed salvation of Israel, complicated only by the fact that Gentiles have been incorporated into this eschatological community. Again, contra Campbell, I would say that what we have here is historical soteriology, not an anthropological soteriology.

In a nutshell, both Jews and Gentiles are justified because they believe that God has redeemed Israel by means of the faithfulness of Jesus.

I accept that you will not agree with this, but it’s worth making it clear that the argument is not dependent on denying the Exodus connotations of Romans 3:24.

I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about Ezekiel 45:21-25. I take the point that sin offerings are mentioned here, but there is no hilastērion, and the prince merely provides the materials for the offerings; he does not “officiate” as priest. It seems to me that the sin offerings are made not because they are thought to be intrinsic to the Passover celebration but because the Passover—the redemption from Egypt—cannot now be celebrated without acknowledging that Israel sinned and was punished by exile. In any case, there is no evidence that Paul had this passage in mind.

The Passover signifies a redemption from slavery, not an atonement for sin. As far as I can see, nowhere is the killing of the Passover lamb said to have an atoning effect. The blood of the lamb is interpreted in Exodus 12:13 merely as a “sign” of the presence of the Hebrews. The description of the Passover ritual never makes mention of sin or of an atonement for sin.

The argument about Abraham’s seed seems to have got rather muddled. I don’t recognize my argument in what you say.

@Andrew Perriman:

I agree that the presence or absence of Passover motifs in Romans 3 does not necessarily affect the arguments about the significance of the narrative, as to whether it is particular or universal. However, the Exodus and return to Canaan are connected with Abraham (Genesis 15:13-21), and form part of an unbroken narrative. The narrative has as its mainspring the promises made to Abraham, with the blessing of "all nations", in my opinion but not yours, as their intention. If Israel was to be blessed, it was, by my reading, so that the nations might be blessed, having diverged from their intended purpose in ways which you describe well in your response to Paul in a different comment.

I wanted to add my questioning of the martyrological interpretation of Romans 3:25a, as it seems to me to point away from this narrative line. There are further examples of Passover/Exodus language in Romans 3:23-26 which I haven't mentioned, such as v23 glory - 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, v24 justified - covenant-making language, redemption - we have already discussed, v25 blood - which is what Israel placed her faith in at the Passover, forebearance - or 'paresis', literally a 'passing over'. I've also asked some questions about the purpose and meaning of the Passover lamb, which you don't seem to feel raises any particular issues.

Ezekiel 45:21-25 combines the various sin, guilt and atonement offerings described with the Passover celebration. You claim that Passover "cannot now be celebrated without acknowledging that Israel sinned and was punished by exile." It's a fair claim, but lacks explicit support from the passage. Going back into the preceding part of Ezekiel 45, the lamb is singled out as an atonement offering - v 15. The LXX 'hilasterion' is not mentioned by name, but it is referred to by function in 45b, where the Hebrew term 'zara' is the same word that is translated 'hilasterion' in the LXX Ezekiel 43:14, 17 and 20, which Cranfield and Moo claim to be the source for Paul's use of the word in Romans 3:25a.

The words 'hilasterion' and 'zara' do not appear in Ezekiel 45:21-21. I was over zealous in making that claim. The sense of the word is given, as that part of the sanctuary where the sacrifices were presented.  The combining of atoning sacrifices and celebration of the Passover in the passage, taken with Ezekiel as Paul's source for 'hilasterion' in Romans 3:25a, and the Passover/Exodus language in Romans 3:23-26, do suggest that this association of Passover and atonement is what Paul has in mind in Romans 3:21-26.

The eschatological Davidic prince does not enter the sanctuary in Ezekiel 45; I was probably getting over zealous there too. However the close involvement of the prince/king with temple and priests in the atoning sacrifices and the celebration of the Passover, speaks, to my mind, strongly enough about Jesus as the king to come, who also combined in himself atoning sacrifices and the Passover lamb, as enacted in the last supper and his death on the cross.

I don't think it is at all likely that 'sign' in Exodus 12:13 can be seen merely as a mark, like a paint mark, with no further significance, and no connection with the purpose of the angel of death, death being in itself a consequence of sin, in terms of the thought of the narrative. So my questions remain. I certainly don't suggest that Pharaoh represented 'sin', but it does seem as if the Israelites were in as much danger as the Egyptians from the angel of death, if YHWH had not made special provision for their safety. Why, I wonder?

@peter wilkinson:

The narrative has as its mainspring the promises made to Abraham, with the blessing of “all nations”, in my opinion but not yours, as their intention.

No, where we disagree is over how the nations are to be blessed. I have never denied that the promises to Abraham have the blessing of the nations in view.

You need to be more precise about how the language of glory, justification, blood, and forbearance specifically invoke the Passover theme. Blood in Romans 3:25 is associated with atonement. The passing over of former sins is quite different to the passing over of the angel of death (which is in any case a questionable interpretation of pesah). What has “justification” got to do with the Passover? Or “glory”, for that matter?

I made the point before that Ezekiel 45:13-20 and 45:21-25 do not describe the same rituals. The language of atonement appears in the first section and is at least indirectly relevant for Paul’s argument, though I see no reason to think that he had this passage specifically in mind.

In any case, this is still entirely compatible with an emphasis on the martyrological narrative. The death of a martyr is said—by analogy with Old Testament ideas of sacrifice—to have an atoning effect for the sins of Israel.

I don’t think it is at all likely that ‘sign’ in Exodus 12:13 can be seen merely as a mark, like a paint mark, with no further significance, and no connection with the purpose of the angel of death, death being in itself a consequence of sin, in terms of the thought of the narrative. So my questions remain.

This is not good exegesis, in my view. If the text doesn’t raise the question, there is no real need to ask it. The argument about sin simply isn’t there. If you want to stress the symbolic function of the blood, why not just say that it stands for life?

I certainly don’t suggest that Pharaoh represented ‘sin’, but it does seem as if the Israelites were in as much danger as the Egyptians from the angel of death, if YHWH had not made special provision for their safety. Why, I wonder?

YHWH may have made special provision for their safety, but this does not require an explanation in terms of atonement.

Are there, incidentally, any instances of sacrifice for sin before the giving of the Law?

@Andrew Perriman:

This is degenerating into a very scratchy and irritable conversation, and I don't really like the tone of it, so this will be my final contribution.

Yes, you are right that we disagree over how the nations are to be blessed, but your explanation seems to me entirely implausible, and it is also a secondary, indirect consequence of something you say is done primarily, and somewhat exclusively for Israel, not for the nations. This is what makes it so implausible. The nations believed because through Israel, and more particularly through Jesus, God had done something for them. This is the heart of the issue in your interpretation of things, and where it goes most wonderfully awry. For sure, you believe the promises to Abraham have the nations in view. That statement in itself almost means nothing.

All the terms I mentioned in Romans 3:23-26 are Exodus terms, in which Passover plays a significant part. Look up the references. Justification is an Exodus term, in its sense of describing the inauguration of a covenant. If you haven't come across that before, I haven't energy to start explaining it and providing all the references here. Just take it from me that this is a valid way of understanding justification, which others understand in the wider theological world. Glory - I gave you a reference. Take a look at it. It's also a key term in Isaiah. There was the glory of the giving of the old covenant, and the glory of the giving of the new. There is the glory of the renewed age which came with Jesus, and is yet to come, as suggested by the fulfilment in Jesus of Isaianic prophecy. Pesah - I assume you mean paresin? No, it's not a conclusive association, and the word is only used here, but given the context, the association is suggestive. Given the questions I have raised about the averting of the angel of death from the homes of Israel's firstborn, it becomes even more suggestive.

Vs 25 - propitiation, or an atoning sacrifice, through his blood; given the arguments set out above, there is every reason to look to the Passover as the context of this statement, and to ask whether there was within the Passover an atoning significance, or the depiction of an atonement to come. Because Jesus so clearly combined the two in himself - Passover lamb / sacrificially atoning lamb, symbolically enacted in the last supper and in his death, we have good reason to raise the question concerning the meaning of the original Passover.

The offerings of Ezekiel 45:13-20 are brought to be offered at various festivals and times - did I suggest anything different? I can't see that I did from what I said in the last comment. However, the place where the offerings are made is the same; and the terminology of the temple remains constant. I can't really see what your point is.

Compatibility of Exodus terminology with martyrological narrative - what kind of authority is "is said to be"? Do you mean the Maccabeean literature asserts an atoning significance in the death of a martyr? So we're back to whose authority Paul is claiming: the Law and the Prophets, or the Maccabees.

Not good exegesis? The text raises the very questions I am asking, otherwise I wouldn't be asking them! I have also explained clearly why I believe the text raises those questions in a previous post. You certainly haven't provided any satisfying alternative suggestions, or any suggestions at all, other than viewing the blood on the door frames/lintels as a sign, like paint.

Where do you suppose the substitutionary sacrifices of the Law came from? (Genesis 22?). Or the thank offerings? (Genesis 4?). Did the sacrifices of the Law have no connection with sacrifices made previously? There is no reason why the same cannot be said of sin offerings in the Law. There were all kinds of sacrifices taking place before the giving of the Law. Should we not be taking these seriously as forerunners of the sacrifices of the Law?

@peter wilkinson:

Sorry, I didn’t realize the conversation was getting so scratchy and irritable. Honestly, I’m trying very hard to be reasonable.

I won’t go over the Exodus stuff again, well hardly. As I said, it doesn’t make that much difference to my basic contention - though I will go back and have a good look at the whole argument again.

The thing about the Maccabean martyr accounts is not one of authority. It’s a question of how the story is being told, or of what sort of story is being told. Given the shared Jewish context, the similarity of the circumstances, and reliance on very similar Old Testament imagery, there is a strong case to be made for thinking that Paul is speaking about Jesus’ death in a similar way. What he says carries authority because he makes reference to the Law and the Prophets; but the type of story he is telling has a great deal in common with the stories of the martyrs. The point is that Paul’s argument is much more like these stories than it is like the argument of what Campbell calls “Justification theory”. That’s all.

If you could show me where the Passover accounts clearly indicate that the meal had atoning significance, I would be happy to accept it. But so far what you have offered looks to me like inference or the reading of other unrelated material into it. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be troublesome. I just don’t see the reason for your confidence in the view that the Passover had atoning significance.

And don’t you think that Hebrews 9:15 is significant, where the exact word apolutrōsis is used? Surely the most that can be said here is that any idea of Exodus has been absorbed into the Day of Atonement image?

@peter wilkinson:

My last post was only slightly tongue in cheek.

There's just so many issues with all this theology. Jesus "is king as a result of YHWH’s faithfulness to the covenant...?" Why? What does the second member of the trinity coming to earth inside the womb of a virgin (in some still-unexplained way through lineage of a much later Hebrew king) have to do with god's covenant to bless Abraham? And isn't Romans 1:3 chiefly a reference to Jesus' humanity, evidence that Paul didn't think of him as a god?

I'm also not following all the interweaving between Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham. "That blessing related to the history preceding the patriarchs, which included a creation covenant made with Noah (far more important than is generally acknowledged), and originated in the distortion of God’s plans triggered by the disobedience of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3."

So god's promise to bless Abraham was related to the covenant made with Noah (that god wouldn't destroy the earth again by flood? I agree that it's important that god won't keep drowning all of humanity repeatedly), which was triggered by the "sin" of Adam and Eve. But none of those things follows logically, except as an assertion. In fact it makes my head hurt trying to tie those things together.

How did Adam and Eve's sin force god to destroy humanity in the flood? And how did drowning all but eight people lead to god's blessing of Abraham, which was tragically misunderstood by Abraham and his descendants to mean that god would bless Abraham and his descendants?


What does the second member of the trinity coming to earth inside the womb of a virgin (in some still-unexplained way through lineage of a much later Hebrew king) have to do with god’s covenant to bless Abraham?

Paul, I realize that your comments were addressed to Peter, but this is surely exactly the clash of narratives that we’re trying to sort out. There is a well-established theological paradigm that interprets scripture through the lens of a later theological developments (eg. “the second member of the trinity coming to earth…”); and there is an emerging reading of the New Testament that is trying to recover the theological (not merely historical) force of the Jewish narrative.

Whether or not Paul thought of Jesus as God, Romans 1:3-4 speaks of a human figure who was given authority, with respect both to Israel and the nations, by means of the resurrection.

As for the Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham argument… well, Peter will have to speak for himself. But I argued in Re: Mission that the “blessing” of Abraham is intentionally a recovery of the “blessing” of creation (Gen. 1:28), which is reiterated for the benefit of Noah following the flood (9:1). Peter would probably argue that the promise of blessing in relation to Abraham’s descendants has universal significance through a reference to Jesus who would save humanity from its sins. My view is that the overarching narrative keeps its focus on the family of Abraham’s descendants (through circumcision first, then through faith), so that Jesus’ death is essentially a death for Israel, but then redeemed Israel becomes the means through which the nations are blessed.

The logic of Genesis 1-11, as I understand it, is that it tells the story of humanity’s departure from the original blessing of creation, in three stages: first, the disobedience in the garden, then the descent into violence, then the arrogance of the builders of Babel (the prototype of empire). The narrative pronounces divine judgment on each of these stages in different ways—for example, drawing on ancient flood myths and perhaps genuine historical recollection of localized flooding in order to speak of God’s revulsion against human wickedness and violence.

But then God seeks to preserve the original blessing of creation by establishing a new world, an alternative humanity, in microcosm, whose “righteousness” would be preserved through obedience to the Law. The argument is then that this righteous people, which had recovered the blessing of creation, would then be the means by which that blessing would be transmitted to the nations.